Have a question for our expert? This line is open until Friday, Sept 3rd. Jim will then answer a few questions Monday and we’ll post his answers right here and on the forums.
Q: I have two grandsons who are 4 and 10 years old. The 4 year old is small for his age and the 10 year old is large for his age and had been diagnosed with ADHD. He tends to be aggressive with his little brother and bully him on occasion going as far as to hit him, often times in the head. While we do intervene when we see it happen we can’t watch them every minute. What if anything should we do to help control the situation?
A: This is a very good question. There is increasing data suggesting the enormous impact siblings have on each other, both positively and negatively. There are adults that were bullied as children that exhibit signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And the odds of becoming a bully increase dramatically when a person was bullied as a child. In your situation, there are several factors to consider before making suggestions. It is obviously important that the older child with ADHD has been helped with behavioral skills, and perhaps medication. I would also want to know what other stressors and anxieties are at play in the family. Anxiety decreases the ability to control impulses as much as ADHD. I would want to know about the temperament for each boy. And I would want to know what has been tried and the level of frustration on the part of adults in these children’s lives. If the adults are worn out and tired, it is likely they are responding to the older child’s aggression with higher levels of aggression, which only escalates the older boy’s anger. Having addressed these issues, I would look at some possible ideas. First, I would want to talk with him about who you are as a family. I would talk about how this family supports, respects, and loves each other, and how we disallow treating each other in ways that are harmful, and I would make sure this is being modeled. This may sound abstract, but families aren’t talking much about how honorable people live with each other. I would also want to make sure the older child has some rights that go with being older – some privileges that go with being 10 that you don’t get at 4. Then, I would work on what often is the biggest mistake made – that is, we tend to separate siblings, which teaches them nothing about conflict regulation. I would suggest that both boys go to a location in the house, and neither is to come out until both are ready. Obviously, the older cannot continue to hurt the younger, and additional consequences should occur if he does. The focus, however, is for them to work it out with each other, which they won’t do if apart. If consequences are needed, I would give the older child additional chores and tasks, rather than withdrawing privileges. It will take some time, but it is important the older sibling feel some status in being a big brother.
Q: A teenage friend of mine is having a really hard time. She’s 14 and being bullied at school. She says the kids are mean to her, but won’t say what it’s about. She is from another country and unfortunately her family is dealing with some money woes, which makes me think it could be related to those things even though I’m not sure. I want give her some tactics for dealing with it – internally or with others. What do you suggest?
A: There is no easy answer for your question, but I first appreciate your sensitivity towards your friend. I trust she feels the support from you and that is important – she ‘s not alone. The best way to help is to gather others around her for support. Bullying is seldom just between two people. It requires the group around them to passively, or sometimes actively, be in support of the bully. If the group disallows and disapproves, bullying stops. The data is clear that the most effective strategy is including more people. The most effective, and easiest, strategy for your friend to learn is called Walk, Breathe, Count. Simply leave the place it is happening, take many deep breaths, and count to 20. This is the strategy professional tennis pros use when they get upset. Simple as it seems, walking changes behavior, breathing changes the body, and counting changes cognition. If all three are changed, the person has changed and is less upset. The less upset your friend becomes, the more likely the bullying will lessen. I would also endorse your thoughts that she may be highly sensitive to this issue because of other issues in the family.
Q: I think the hardest thing to know as a parent is when SHOULD you intervene? Oh and, how/when do you work on those conflict skills? B/c clearly waiting until I’m exasperated with the kids isn’t ideal. 🙂
A: The parental intervention, as indicated in an earlier answer, is to teach the kids how to manage conflict themselves – easier said than done. But conflict is normal. A 6yo and a 4yo, put in the same room, will have conflicts more than 6 times/hourly. Your attempts to solve the conflicts for your kids will not work, but only increase everyone’s frustration, leading to discouragement and further frustrations. It is best if conflicts are made family issues – we all struggle at times with each other, but hurting each other, verbally, emotionally, or physically is just not how this family operates. I recently saw a father take his two young children, who were at each other’s throats, and have them sit on a couch, hold each other’s hand, and could not leave until they told each other they loved each other. In a very short time, they were laughing and being silly with each other. His calmness set the tone, but his clarity that his family would be respectful to one another was clear. What I see every day are parents who are trying their very best, but are so busy, tired, and frustrated themselves that they lack the positive energy to do as that father.
Q: What are the long-term effects of being bullied?
A: Children who grow up having been bullied exhibit the signs of post traumatic stress disorder and are more likely to become bullies themselves.
Q: What are the differences in bullying in boys and girls?
A: Girl bullying tends to be more emotional. Boy bullying tends to be more physical. Cyberbullying tends to be more emotional for both boys and girls.
Q: How do you handle bullying within families among siblings?
A: The biggest mistake is to separate them because they need to learn conflict regulation. Siblings between 4 and 6 years of age will have conflict on average 6.2 times per hour.
Q: How do you keep your child who has been bullied from becoming a victim?
A: Telling a child to ignore a bully is not helpful. They must be given skills to do such as mindful exercises or exercises from sports psychology such as walk then breath then count.